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Confronting our Agoraphobia, Part III: The Long Road Back

(This is part 3 of a series that started with Confronting Agoraphobia, Part I: Carefully Taught and Confronting our Agoraphobia Part II: The Bad Guys are Winning.)

Where We’ve Been

Over the past two entries in this series we’ve reviewed how bargaining has gone from common to rare, and how shopping in America has become a passive experience. We’ve discussed how the evolution of marketing and discounting have consolidated the power of pricing entirely in the hands of the manufacturers. We’ve discussed the potential gain from choosing to haggle – a peak negotiator saved $2500 in a year. That means an average negotiator could save about $1500. What we haven’t discussed is how to work our way back to an even distribution of power.

Let me expand on that number a bit. $1500 saved per person, per year. 206 million adults in the United States, give or take a hundred thousand or so.[1] Roughly 10% of them are incarcerated.[2] If the rest of them saved $1500 per year, that would total $278.2 Billion saved. Annually. (That’s about 2x the annual revenue of Wal-Mart as reported to the NYSE,[3] or, sadly, just 1.7% of the national debt at this moment.[4])

Let’s have one more quote to get things moving forward:

“A recent Consumer Reports survey showed only 28 percent of Americans haggle over prices. A separate report from market research firm BIGresearch found 45.1 percent of adults haggle for things other than cars and homes.

However, the Consumer Reports survey found that consumers who haggle succeed as often as 83 percent of the time in landing a better bargain.”

— Yuki Noguchi, “Haggling picks up steam during recession,” NPR.org, August 2009.

 

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  1. [1]Wolfram alpha: What is the adult population of North America, July 2012.
  2. [2]NY Times: Adam Liptak, “1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says,” Feb 2008.
  3. [3]Ycharts: Wal-Mart Stores Revenue (WMT) as of July, 2012
  4. [4]US National Debt Clock, July 2012

Confronting our Agoraphobia, Part II: the Bad Guys are Winning

This is part II of a series that started with Confronting Agoraphobia, Part I: Carefully Taught.

Rollback Further

My folks have a good friend – we’ll call him Doug – who’s learned a thing or two about saving money. A wunderkind who made an early fortune in the evolution of microloans, he knows that small amounts add up. He’s also learned that to most businesses any sale is better than no sale. Doug haggles for everything. He will walk to the counter at Wal-mart with a $25 pack of t-shirts, toss it on the belt, and tell the clerk “I’ll give you $15.” He renovates kitchens for a living. He will go to furniture stores and open with a bid at 50% of list price.

You’d be amazed at how often he gets the discounts he requests.

Did you think you couldn’t haggle at Wal-mart? Have you ever tried? If you haven’t, you’re probably not alone, and you aren’t entirely to blame. It sounds like a fairy tale because you’ve been on the receiving end of a lengthy, multifaceted agenda to make you think bargaining is scary, difficult, time consuming and futile. Let’s take a look at how outside forces, both intentionally and accidentally, have contributed to the decline of negotiation in commerce. (more…)

Confronting our Agoraphobia, Part I: Carefully Taught

Fear of the marketplace

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

— John F Kennedy

 

“In North America and Europe bargaining is restricted to expensive or one-of-a-kind items (automobiles, jewellery, art, real estate, trade sales of businesses) and informal sales settings such as flea markets and garage sales. In other regions of the world bargaining may be the norm even for small commercial transactions. In Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia where locals haggle for goods and services everywhere from street markets to hotels, haggling is a strong cultural tradition that even children learn from a young age.”

— Wikipedia, “Bargaining

There are some places in the world where to get a bargain means that you’ve used your market savvy to nick some of the vendors’ profit back for yourself. It’s a win in the game. In America, getting a bargain generally means the vendor had decided to lower her list price on a certain item for a short period of time. There is a “win” involved, but it’s more like winning at slots than winning at chess. You’d not believe it from looking at the crazed shoppers waiting out front of Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve, but American-style bargain hunting is a far more passive experience than it is elsewhere.

I have a hypothesis that Americans are afraid of haggling. It’s a carefully taught agoraphobia – in the true translation of the term, “fear of the marketplace.” It has a twofold basis. On one side, the dogma that only the most clever can successfully negotiate a deal. On the other, the forced separation between buyers and sellers. Transactions are automated and anonymized. The pace is quickened to limit a consumer’s ability to research actual value.

This is a pretty major topic, so I’ll be doing this as a multiple article series over the next couple of weeks. To give you an idea of where we’re headed, I’ve provided this handy timeline.

Spiffy, no?

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